In a bid to capture a share of the lucrative sub Rs. 15,000 segment, Asus has recently launched the ZenFone Max Pro M1 in India at a starting price of Rs. 10,999. With a large battery, stock Android, and dual rear cameras, the ZenFone Max Pro M1 seems to have all the ingredients needed to set the budget smartphone market on fire. Asus claims that this new phone was developed specifically for India, but can it challenge the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro, which has established itself as the segment leader and has been well received by buyers and critics alike. We spent some time with both smartphones, comparing them in detail, and here is what we found.
On the design front, both the Redmi Note 5 Pro and ZenFone Max Pro M1 have tall 18:9 displays, vertically stacked dual camera setups at the rear, and rear-mounted fingerprint sensors. While the Redmi Note 5 Pro is made entirely out of aluminium, the Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 has a metal backplate but plastic inserts on the top and bottom.
Both smartphones have similar dimensions and are easy to hold in the hand thanks to rounded corners and curved edges. While the Redmi Note 5 Pro has a noticeable camera bump, the camera module on the ZenFone Max Pro M1 barely protrudes from the chassis. One problem with the Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 is that its back gets smudged with fingerprints very easily.
At a time when the industry is moving towards USB Type-C, both smartphones use age-old Micro-USB ports for charging and data transfers.
Both smartphones are powered by the octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor and have dual cameras at the back. The Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 significantly undercuts the Redmi Note 5 Pro in terms of price. The base variant of the ZenFone Max Pro M1 with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage is priced at Rs. 10,999, while the variant with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage costs Rs. 12,999. The Redmi Note 5 Pro in comparison starts with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, priced at Rs. 14,999 (after a recent price hike).
Both the ZenFone Max Pro M1 and Redmi Note 5 Pro are also available (or will soon be) with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, priced at Rs. 14,999 and Rs. 16,999 respectively. Interestingly, Asus has also bumped up the camera specifications for this particular variant, making it stand out even more.
You can expand the storage of both smartphones by up to 256GB. While the ZenFone Max Pro M1 has a dedicated microSD card slot, the hybrid dual-SIM tray of the Redmi Note 5 Pro forces you to choose between a microSD card and a second SIM.
Both models have 5.99-inch full-HD+ screens with an aspect ratio of 18:9, which makes content look immersive. The display on the Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 is bright and has punchy and vivid colours. The Redmi Note 5 Pro's display has better viewing angles but seems a bit dull and washed out in comparison.
The Redmi Note 5 Pro has a smaller 4000mAh battery, compared to the sizeable 5000mAh unit found in the Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1. Connectivity options for both phones include 4G VoLTE, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, GPS/ A-GPS, Bluetooth 5.0, and a 3.5mm headphone socket. You can make 4G VoLTE calls from both sim cards on the ZenFone Max Pro M1, but 4G data is only supported on one at a time. The Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro in comparison does not support dual active 4G VoLTE.
Being powered by the same octa-core Snapdragon 636 processor, there is very little to differentiate between the two smartphones when it comes to performance. In our tests, both phones handled everything with aplomb, from basic day-to-day to use such as browsing the Web and using social media applications, to intensive workloads.
Both smartphones produced extremely similar scores in every benchmark test that we put them through. They handled heavy games such as Asphalt 8 without any dropped frames or stutters, and did not heat up too much when pushed. Between the two, the Redmi Note 5 Pro ran slightly cooler during intensive use, but neither got uncomfortably hot.
While precise and accurate, the fingerprint sensor on Asus's smartphone is a bit slow compared to the one on the Redmi Note 5 Pro. Both smartphones have face recognition built-in, which works pretty well as long as lighting is favourable. Again, we found the Redmi Note 5 Pro slightly faster and more accurate, especially in dim light.
In terms of software, the two companies have taken extremely different approaches. Asus has ditched its custom ZenUI in favour of stock Android 8.1 on the ZenFone Max Pro M1, which the company says was a result of market research. When using this phone, it feels fluid and snappy. There is still a modicum of bloatware on board, with apps like Go2Pay, Messenger and Instagram preinstalled, none of which can be removed. There are a few ZenUI apps on board as well such as Voice Recorder and FM Radio, which are actually useful. Asus has told Gadgets 360 that it intends to update the ZenFone Max Pro M1 all the way till Android Q. Seeing the company's track record in terms of shipping updates, this could be taken with a pinch of salt, although things are quite different now without ZenUI.
The Redmi Note 5 Pro in comparison has Xiaomi's heavily skinned MIUI 9.2 running atop Android 7.1.2 Nougat. While MIUI is quite feature-loaded, it is still not as clean and fluid as stock Android. MIUI 9 also has quite a lot of apps preinstalled, only some of which can be removed. The Android 8.0 Oreo update for the Redmi Note 5 Pro is slated to arrive soon, but Xiaomi has not yet announced any specific date.
With a 5,000mAh battery, we expected the Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 to easily trump the Redmi Note 5 Proin terms of battery life. In our HD video loop battery test however, the Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 lasted just 12 hours and 2 minutes - well short of Asus's claim of 25 hours of continuous video playback. With a smaller 4,000mAh battery, the Redmi Note 5 Pro lasted an incredible 16 hours and 36 minutes. While both phones easily lasted through a full day of moderate to intensive use, it was the Redmi Note 5 Pro that had just a little more juice left at the end of the day.
At the back, the ZenFone Max Pro M1 has a 13-megapixel primary sensor with a five-element lens, an aperture of f/2.2, and an 80-degree field of view, alongside a secondary 5-megapixel depth sensor. On the front, the smartphone has an 8-megapixel camera with an aperture of f/2.2 and a viewing angle of 85.5 degrees. Both the rear and front cameras have single-LED flashes.
The Redmi Note 5 Pro's rear dual camera setup consists of a 12-megapixel primary sensor with an f/2.2aperture and a 5-megapixel secondary sensor with an f/2.0 aperture. On the front, it has a 20-megapixel f/2.2 camera with an LED flash that can capture bokeh shots using Xiaomi's AI learning algorithms.
In favourable lighting conditions, there is very little that sets the photo quality of these two smartphones apart. The Redmi Note 5 Pro captures more detail but colours on the ZenFone Max Pro M1 are punchier and more vivid. In low light, the Redmi Note 5 Pro manages to edge out the ZenFone Max Pro M1, with more details and better colour accuracy. Bokeh shots taken by both smartphones are above average, but the Redmi Note 5 Pro has better edge detection and delivers smoother gradients between a subject and its background.
Video recording maxes out at 1080p for the Redmi Note 5 Pro while the Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 can go up to 4K UHD. Videos taken by both smartphones, both during the day and at night, are decent. We noted that footage recorded with the Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 exhibits a lot of focus shifting. The front cameras on both smartphones are good enough for social media use, with the Redmi Note 5 Pro having a slight edge in low-light situations.
The ZenFone Max Pro M1's camera app is quite confusing and cluttered. Basic controls such as the flash toggle are buried within menus, and there is no auto HDR or Pro mode. The Redmi Note 5 Pro, in comparison, has a well laid out camera app with a full-featured manual mode on offer, though it is very much iPhone-inspired.
The Redmi Note 5 Pro edges out the Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 when it comes to design, and has the better set of cameras. Despite having a considerably lower capacity battery, it delivers better battery life as well. The Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1, on the other hand, offers a cleaner software package, a brighter and punchier display, and arguably the same level of performance.
Asus has targeted a starting price that is currently Rs. 4,000 lower than that of Xiaomi's offering, although with less RAM and storage. However, even in a fairer comparison using the higher-priced ZenFone Max Pro M1 variant with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, Asus undercuts the Redmi Note 5 Pro by Rs. 2,000, and this tilts the cards in its favour. One thing that both companies are struggling with right now is availability. Despite assurances that it wasn't going to use flash sales, Asus has not been able to meet demand for the ZenFone Max Pro M1. With limited stocks, the promised open sale has turned into periodic flash sales just like Xiaomi's, and you'll have to act quickly to snag either of these phones.
We discussed whether Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 is a Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro killer on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.